The Role of Local Government As A Catalyst For Smart Community Initiatives Has Evolved To Include New Partners

Guest author William Maguire, Founder, Connected Communities Consulting

When I started writing about what I then called “smart city” projects, the term seemed apt.  High profile “smart city” projects were collaborations between IT/telecommunications vendors and large municipalities.  This 2012 post summarizing Cisco’s Smart City deployment in Barcelona captures, well, the early days of “smart city.”  The projects were demonstration pilots designed to integrate and coordinate different municipal services and, in so doing, help city governments to increase the quality of life for residents.

Although the Cisco post is less than eight years old, it reads – at least in part – as a relic of a bygone era.  For example, in the post, Vicente Guallart, Barcelona’s Chief Architect and Director of Urban Habitat, imagines when, “everyone tells the city where they want to go when they get in their cars, and the city tells them which is the best route,” via a “real-time information system where [a city] could tell where cars were headed to and where they need to be directed.”

To a reader in 2020, among the most notable elements of the future that Mr. Guallart imagines is the central role he assigns to the municipality.  Due to the emergence of direct to the consumer applications from companies including Apple, Google and Waze, most readers would now envision a more limited role for local governments.  Indeed, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it seems wholly out-of-scope to assign to local government the role of mobility applications developer, whereas in 2012 local government as a provider of real-time directions to residents/visitors was a key selling-point of Cisco’s vision of a Smarter Barcelona.

The Cisco blog from 2012 helps illustrate an evolving role of the local government in what we now call “smart community” projects.  A partnership between local governments and application developers that was difficult to foresee in 2012 is now at the core of smart community initiatives.  For proof-positive of this point, I invite you to peruse the impressive list of smart community applications maintained by the non-profit organization US Ignite.

Re-reading the 2012 Cisco blog got me to thinking: is there a critical smart community partnership that is difficult to foresee in 2020 but will be abundantly clear in 2028?

The growing smart community ecosystem provides several potential answers to this question. Utility companies, cable providers and community anchor institutions (including hospitals, libraries, educational campuses) have already established themselves as increasingly important smart community partners to local governments.  It does not require a crystal ball to predict that the scale and impact of these partnerships will continue to grow over the next eight years. 

It’s not too much of a stretch to posit that that – in 2028 – we will be able to observe more clearly the important partnerships emerging between local governments and real estate developers.

The Emergence of Real Estate Developers as a Critical Smart Community Partner to Local Governments

The case for real estate developers as an emerging smart community partner to local governments rests on three contentions: 1) developers are currently funding projects that use advanced technologies to enhance the livability and sustainability of communities, 2) projects funded by developers advance local government’s smart community goals, and 3) partnerships provide the most effective means for local governments to advance their smart community goals rapidly and effectively.  

1. Real Estate Developers are Funding Smart and Connected Community Projects.  Homebuilders including Pulte Homes, Signature Homes, and Meritage Homes have completed new housing developments in Atlanta GA, Hoover AL and Irvine CA that the homebuilders are touting as “smart neighborhoods,” “smart communities.”  Home buildings are even creating consumer-facing branding, such as “Mconnectedhomes.”  In Charleston SC, Trademark Properties has developed a technology-centered Smart Community approach to revitalizing an under-utilized shopping mall.  There exists encouraging data from a 2017 survey indicating that nearly 50% real estate professionals believe that smart home solutions increase property value and improve rental renewal rates.  To me, these data suggest that there is market demand for smart community projects and that, as such, the examples I identified above are just the tip of the iceberg.

2. Even though most real estate projects are funded without local government financial support, the projects can nonetheless advance key local government Smart Community goals.  I recently interviewed an official from the City of Oakland CA and asked him about his city’s Top-3 challenges, his answer: “housing, housing and housing.”  In Oakland they are partnering with East Bay for Everyone and Enterprise Community Partners to develop tens of thousands of housing units.  A central objective of mobility planning in Oakland (and in many other fast growing municipalities across the country) centers on locating new housing units near affordable and effective transit options.  Enhanced mobility is Smart Community goal cited by many local governments.

Dozens of cities, including Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston and many others, have passed sustainability and carbon emission reduction plans that focus on improving the energy efficiency of homes and buildings.  The new smart neighborhood homes in Hoover Al are at least 35% more efficient that the average new homes built in Alabama and the Irvine CA homes were designed and developed to be zero carbon emission homes.  Additionally, the mixed-use EPIC mall redevelopment in Charleston is designed to make its community more vibrant and livable.  Even during the construction, the developers are hosting demonstrations of the EPIC Center’s new technologies enabled by Comcast and Juganu.  Clean air, sustainability and economic revitalization are Smart Community goals cited by many local governments.

3. Partnerships between real estate developers and local governments will advance smart community goals rapidly and effectively.  According to IDC’s 2020 Smart Cities Spending Guide, cities worldwide will spend $124B in 2020. This significant spending power notwithstanding, it simply pales in comparison to construction spending in the United States, which in January 2019 totaled $1.28 trillion according US Census data. Effective partnerships that leverage construction expenditures in their community have the potential to rapidly accelerate a community’s smart community goals.

As ever, I am most interested in how to best bring scale to smart community projects so that the initiatives can realize positive, transformative impact for community residents.  For this reason, I am optimistic about the emergence of real estate developers as users/employers of advanced smart home and smart building technologies.  As active participants in the smart community ecosystem, real estate developers stand to bring tremendous scale to the sector.

I prepared this post to accompany the Smart Cities Connect Conference scheduled to take place April 6-9 in Denver.  Because of the outbreak of COVID-19, the Smart Cities Connect conference—and my Smart City 101 workshop—has been postponed and will take place November 17-19 in the Washington DC area. 

I invite real estate developers and their local government and technology industry partners to join us at Smart Cities Connect in November. At Smart Cities Connect, we try to articulate the future direction of smart community initiatives. We welcome developers and their partners to help convey the power and impact of these emerging Smart Community partnerships.

About Bill Maguire:

Bill Maguire is founder of Connected Communities LLC and an advisor and consultant to local governments, non-profit organizations and technology companies.  Since 2013, Bill has helped clients grow their businesses, apply for grants, draft position papers, launch and implement new products and programs, engage key stakeholders, reach new audiences and carry-out effective public-facing events. 

In 2017, Bill developed a Smart City 101 training curriculum that introduces ideas and projects that drive global interest in smart community deployments. In November 2020, Bill will convene a SC101 workshop at Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo.

Prior to his consulting work, Bill served as Chief of Staff for the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  Through the $4.7 billion BTOP program, NTIA supported the deployment of 100,000 new and upgraded fiber network miles connecting 20,000 anchor institutions, including more than 10,000 K-12 schools.